Essays on making things and making meaning
by Susan Neville
ISBN: 1878448080

This collection of essays turned out to be more on the philosophical side of making meaning than on the documentary side of making things. There isn’t anything wrong with that, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Neville’s focus is Indiana, and how the manufactured/manufacturing landscape isn’t what it used to be. (I would have preferred a bit more digging into if it ever truly was, in the way I question if the 1950s ever truly were the way they are usually portrayed.) She visits a tomato canning plant, a coffin manufacturer, a glass works, a doll maker, and a goth night event at a hotel, among other things. Unfortunately, the essays sometimes read as though Neville was more in her head than she was really in these places. As a result, at times her meditations on meaning were overblown.

She addresses nostalgia, hope, progress, and difficulty in her essays. I wanted more grit. Oh, there was blasting heat of melting steel and the possibility of shattering glass, but not enough danger (even in the metaphorical sense). One kind of past has eroded, the present has questions, and the future is uncertain in Neville’s essays: if these ideas in a soft focus (versus sharp documentary) appeal to you, you’ll probably enjoy this collection more than I did. My hopes were high, but overall I was disappointed.

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